Is Mozilla Punting on Web Apps for Linux?

firefoxFrom the ‘Mozilla Isn’t a Linux Vendor’ files:

While Mozilla is a leading light in the open source community, every so often I’m reminded that the same isn’t always true in the Linux community.

There has been an ongoing thread over the course of the last week about Mozilla’s lack of initial support for the Web Apps Marketplace on Linux.

That’s right folks, the same group that is now (rightly) attacking Microsoft over the initial lack of access for browsers on Windows RT, isn’t initially supporting Linux for Web Apps.

Mozillians have tried to defend, Mozilla lack of initial support for Linux.

Linux support for apps is a nice to have because most of our users are not running Linux,” Mozilla staffer Dan Mills wrote. “I think we’re supportive and absolutely willing to accept patches to make something work on Linux, but it’s just not something that affects the 80% (I don’t think it’s even 10%, though I don’t have any data handy). By definition, this is a nice to have, not a stop-ship feature. Remember that we are making software for a lot of people, and staff and community are actually a tiny slice of the userbase. I know it’s hard, but we need to focus on the userbase at large, not on us.”

Thankfully, I’m not the only one that finds that view somewhat — distasteful. Mozilla community member Ruben Martin wrote: 

Linux is not another platform, it’s the platform which shares our values about being open and the reason most people gets involved with mozilla, because they believe in libre software and in the open web. Not supporting linux is not supporting a big group of people that empowers mozilla, and not supporting them/us is not supporting mozilla.

The discussion led to an equally disturbing comment from Mozilla’s Asa Dotzler who seemed to imply it’s a resource issue that Mozilla (with its millions of Google dollars) doesn’t have the people to allocate for Linux development. Dotzler wrote:

What we need most, I suspect, is available Linux coders, people who know Gnome, Unity, GTK, etc. to do the platform integration work. I don’t know who those people are. Looking around the sub-set of community members employed by Mozilla who could help on this, I don’t see any available resources or even any resources I would move from their current work to this work.

Thankfully, Mozilla is not made up of people that share the same world view of Linux as Dotzler. Mozilla CTO, Brendan Eich knows how important Linux is to Mozilla’s wider efforts and in my view he has been the voice of reason on the subject of Linux support. Eich wrote:


Indeed the whole apps, marketplace and web runtime plan is too large to do at one step, or even with platform parity at the first step. That does not mean we give up our cross-platform commitments.

We support Linux as you say, because of our cross-platform principles first, and because of lead users in the Linux community and among our top Gecko hackers. There’s a nexus: B2G is based on Linux and Gecko, but of course without any Linux desktop (and without X-Windows. This is a good thing!).

So what does this all mean?

It means that Linux is not the number one priority for Mozilla (today) and it’s likely a third class citizen behind Windows and Mac. That said, I know full well that Red Hat (and likely other Linux distros too) have some dedicated resources that are focused on Firefox as it is the primary browser in use by default on Linux today. I just wish that Mozilla, instead of focusing on the world as it is, also took aim at helping to advance Linux for the open desktop world that we want. Perhaps with B2G, that will happen…


Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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